There’s been a lot of talk about Mars lately. Last fall, Elon Musk upped his Bond villain status by going on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and saying he wants to bomb the red planet to make it fertile enough for humans to live on; Matt Damon is in the running for a Best Actor Oscar for his performance as another character in need of bringing back, this time from Mars, in The Martian; and Netherlands-based non-profit Mars One is planning to skyrocket a team of humanoids to our space neighbor on a one-way trip. It seems like the future is now, but until we actually get to start claiming Mars for ourselves all we can do is speculate, prepare and be inspired. And that’s exactly what performance artist MPA is doing.
In The Interview: Red, Red Future, opening this Saturday at Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, the artist examines what life could be like in the not-so-distant future and focuses on the clearly all-present idea of colonization.
“For me it’s really about creating an intimate moment about our oncoming future of colonizing Mars,” MPA notes, commenting on the matter-of-factness of the idea of planting a flag on Mars. “My hope is that we’ll look at ourselves as humans with a history of colonization. Why is that what we do? What’s our desire? Is it a desire for frontiers?”
Contrary to her enthusiasm, MPA—whose exhibition features four images, two installations, and a site-specific, participatory work—wasn’t always intrigued by Mars or space. It took an exodus from the kill-or-be-killed arts scene in New York City and subsequent migration to the American West to bring about her fascination with the unknown.
“I moved out here unintentionally, not knowing I would be staying this long… It was a six-month idea that’s gone on for three years now.”
Every year, when her time frees up following a three-month teaching stint in Los Angeles, MPA heads back out to the desolate desert surrounding Joshua Tree National Park. Known as a place to transcend, the natural surroundings caught on to the artist, inspiring her to imagine a world not her own.
“Being in the desert has completely influenced me on this project, especially with the ongoing efforts of war on this planet and the oncoming colonization of Mars,” says MPA, whose home in 29 Palms, a dusty town about an hour northeast of Palm Springs, is situated near the country’s largest Marine Corps base.
The combination of nature, military, the latest news about space exploration, and actually speaking with UFO researchers all culminated in a jolt of wonderment that MPA couldn’t help but pursue.
Not wanting to tie herself down to one platform, MPA’s inspiration takes form in a number of ways in the exhibition. On one end, viewers can circle “Codex,” a sculpture work featuring a black and white image of a Peruvian geoglyph highlighted with a variety of animals, humans and natural motifs. When a UV light pierces the platform, the work becomes a cosmic model of an alien landscape.
In “Long Line,” MPA’s affinity for gathering comes to life. Featuring found objects like weathered plastics, metal, rubber, and ceramic shards, the work came together from the artist’s daily walks out in the desert.
“It was really unconscious, but I started these little collections of plastics around the house and the studio. Then I started paying attention when plastic turned to dust, then to sand, and subsequently the idea of uncovering the story of what exactly I’m walking on.”
But the main focus of the multi-layered exhibition, one specific to Houston, is the eponymous participatory work. Throughout the exhibition’s 14-week run, MPA will be available to take calls from anyone who picks up a phone stationed at CAMH. Cue "Hotline Bling" references. The point the artist hopes to make is to connect with people on their thoughts on colonization and space travel.
“Mars is clearly a point of focus and became the center of the installation. Mars is the next subject for colonization, so what do we think about it?”
Feb 27–June 5. Free. Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, 5216 Montrose Blvd. 713-284-8250. camh.org